Guidelines for Breeding Pheasants
Although they are often served in restaurants with a higher class clientele, game birds are not only a feast for the rich and famous especially when breeding pheasants is so easily accomplished. Not only will you enjoy an endless supply of delicious meat, but will have the added advantage of bringing eggs to the table.
The popular game bird called the pheasant originated in China, and was brought into North America in the late 1880’s. Their habitat varies, but generally consists of open fields, farmlands and woodlands where they are able to locate their foods of choice that include insects, seeds, grains, berries and young plant seedlings. They forage for their food, and therefore remain on the ground much of the time. The birds are both fliers and runners; they can run at speeds of 8-10 miles per hour, but are also accomplished fliers that can achieve about 45 mph in the air. A familiar sight among hunters is the abrupt takeoff of these birds from the ground as they sense danger; however, in most cases, pheasants choose to run from perceived threats.
As is common with many fowl, males (which are called roosters) exhibit more colorful plumage than the hens, or females. Males will collect a “harem” of up to twelve hens, with whom they will mate interchangeably. They are aggressively protective of their little flock and their territory, which can result in vicious attacks and fights when other males approach.
There are many varieties of pheasant, each with their own specific characteristics and coloration. All varieties are good eating, but the most common varieties found in the United States is the ring necked pheasant and the English, and the types most choose when breeding pheasants.
Breeding of game birds always begins with the chicks. Choose healthy and active chicks, making sure that the eyes are bright and clear, the nostrils are dry, the feathers are clean and shiny and that the chicks are of good weight and size. You will need to have a good ratio of roosters and hens; a rule of thumb to use is to figure 10 to 12 hens per rooster for every 30 feet of pen spacing for outdoor birds, and 15 to 16 hens per rooster in internal breeding areas that are well lit and temperature controlled. While small, the chicks must be kept warm in a brooder house.
Pheasants will require a special diet of 25 to 30% protein which can be supplied using commercial game bird feed. Breeder feed will include adding calcium to the diet, which can be done through a 50-50 mix of oyster shell and granite poultry grit.
As seasonal breeders, male pheasants will generally begin to exhibit strutting behaviors in early spring. Hens will begin to lay eggs around mid-April, but are not good sitters. Egg production will continue into the month of June, with hens laying an average of 50 to 60 eggs, of which as many as 15 may be fertile each cycle. Eggs should be collected every day to prevent them from becoming too warm; keep them in a cool spot of around 60º for approximately 10 days when they should be incubated. When incubating the eggs, they should be rotated several times daily; some incubators will perform this task automatically. Hatching will begin in 23 to 25 days, depending on the species and the cycle will begin all over again.
Those who enjoy the delicious meat of game birds may find that breeding pheasants can keep their appetites fulfilled without having to go out to restaurants. An added benefit is a good supply of eggs for the table. It can also be a great and satisfying hobby.